Lauren Henley

Lauren Henley has been published in previous editions of Badlands. She writes powerfully, especially (in my view) about the Mojave. You can find her newest work in her forthcoming book, which won the Perugia Press prize for 2017: Starshine Road, due out in September of 2017. You can find more information here. Look below the poem for a review of Starshine Road by Greg Gilbert, a professor and teacher in the desert.

 

A Dollar (for a funeral)

The woman was still in love

I could tell by the way

her arms cradled

 

something swathed

Her glass eye was the color

of my coffee

 

it reflected the parking lot

arches     patrons with crew cuts

school books on loan

a shadow tied to a string

 

A dollar she said to me a car wash

 

It was a spell     it was a song

her rising open palms

My son she said his funeral

 

*          *          *

 

The woman was an immigrant

I could tell because

her syllables were like cherries

plucked by greedy birds

her sentence

an empty tree

 

A dollar? she asked

A funeral?

 

How to explain currency     ceremony

 

I touched her arm instead

but she dragged her cardboard sign

to the highway     like a slab

held it against the wind

 

My son it read My son

 

*          *          *

 

The woman was pregnant

Her feet spread like pancake batter

through rubber shoes

 

I’d seen her before     bathed in bubbles

fumes     hubcaps     washing cars

pumping gas     separating white light

into a spectrum of colors

 

She wanted to know the time

I looked up from my milkshake

parcels     watches     a dollar

fell from my sleeve     a green feather

 

She bent to it     her stomach growled

 

What could I say?

 

So young & yet the cracks on her hands

like bars on a tiger’s cage

 

*          *          *

 

I’d seen her underneath a bench

hugging a dog for warmth

 

I’d given her a dollar then

 

& she asked again

 

to bury her son

 

She lived with him once

years ago     They washed the dog

in the bathtub every Saturday

 

Sundays they filled the dead father’s

work truck with black cherries

pushed it into a canyon

 

made sunset for West Covina

 

The truck always came home

until     of course     it didn’t

 

*          *          *

 

The woman had just died & come back

 

I knew because

people leaned towards her

then away

 

Each of us learned one new thing

but most forgot

instantly

 

What I heard     a melody

played on white keys

 

Son, son, fun-er-al, play a-long

with me!

 

I forget the rest

 

No one could drink

their coffee in peace

She was slick with afterbirth

her eyes were grey

& suspicious as newborn wolves

 

A dollar to make her go away     a hundred

Our arms to bite      our throats

 

*          *          *

 

The woman was a liar

I knew because I didn’t believe her

 

Do you have a dollar for my son’s funeral?

 

I asked her what happened

 

A boating accident     last week

 

Her husband & brother

her cousin & nephew & neighbors

all washing cars behind McDonald’s

 

for her son     his funeral

I said I was sorry

 

The plane she said

it went straight down

how is it I’m alive?

 

& the fire     all the lint from the dryer

why hadn’t I cleaned it out?

 

The heart defect     silent in the night

 

How could I have known? Tell me

how could I have known?  

 

*          *          *
The woman had a mouth full of tiny shoes

When she hummed

I could hear a boy

awake too early

looking for his plastic car

 

Her breasts were blown glass

still molten

No one would touch her

 

not even her husband

who was behind Kmart

washing the trucks

of teenage boys

 

His tattooed hand opened to the dollars

opened to the quarters & dimes

his tattoos spilled from his chest

ran down his arms

 

onto the drivers     the bucket

marked funeral

they slid down the hoses

they floated on the Sunday air

they landed on his wife

the feet of their son

dashes between dates

a bouquet of roses

 

*          *          *

 

Just two weeks ago

the woman got a promotion

 

She drove the Dodge two hours

to her son’s apartment

in San Bernardino

 

gave him four twenties

so he could buy schoolbooks

She met his girlfriend     Sonya

& made them

sopapillas & pozole with shrimp

 

The woman said

I love you

She told the elevator     the parking lot

her ’95 Dodge Caravan

the changing lights

 

the poison sky     the patient traffic

a funeral procession

 

Transcendence

 

A good day

 

 

 

Greg Gilbert’s Review of Starshine Road

                  If being a poet is a calling, it follows that the appreciation of great poetry can be as well. It is in that spirit that L.I. Henley’s Starshine Road reflects on what it means to grow up in the “hi-desert.” Lauren Henley was born and raised in Joshua Tree, attended Copper Mountain College, went on to earn graduate degrees in English and Reading, and now commutes to Crafton Hills College in Yucaipa.

                  Where poets often write for other poets, particularly other members of the academy, Lauren’s work transcends any such pretentions. Hers is the voice of an artist who knows the desert, the desert of buried junk and discarded lives that resurface with time, of chained dogs that drown in gully washers, of New Years eves spent chained to a television, of vagrants begging alms to bury a child, of a father’s badge hard against her cheek, of a grandfather who wondered what held up the sky, and of the stories that inhabit a shoe tree outside of Amboy. At times the poetry is as familiar as a starlit night, but there are instances when the reader must look up from the page and savor the ineffable. “Dog & His Man” broke my heart:  “He chatters he cries he dies slow / I pull out my bones & make a bed frame.” This is a book of truth, an offering to be savored by those who know the desert and are drawn to answer Lauren’s call.

                  Lauren’s other books are These Friends These Rooms, Desert With a Cabin View, and The Finding. Her work represents the emerging voice of a gifted poet who has received far too many accolades to recount here. Happily for us and our growing community of writers, Lauren and her husband, the poet Jonathan Maule, who also teaches at Crafton Hills, have partnered to create the “Visiting Writers Series at the Beatnik Lounge,” beginning September 15.  Lauren’s fourth book of poems, Starshine Road, will be launched at Space Cowboy on Sunday, October 8.

 

Advertisements